What can you use instead of sugar?

Blueberry cobbler

Source:© Teri/Adobe Stock

My husband was wishing for some of his mother’s blueberry cobbler this summer, so I dug out her old recipe. It was pretty sketchy in terms of the directions, but I did my best (and Googled a few other recipes for comparison.)

It turned out pretty good if I do say so myself! The picture is not of the cobbler I made — I didn’t think to take one, although, of course, it was more than worthy!

The beauty of any cobbler is that you could make it with almost any kind of fruit or other berries. My husband was in the mood for blueberries. Here’s his mother’s recipe:

Ma’s Blueberry Cobbler

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sweetened berries (stew slightly in sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used soy milk)
  • 2 TBS melted butter (I used vegan butter)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Put the stewed berries in a baking dish
  2. Beat all of the other ingredients and pour over the berries
  3. Bake at 350° roughly 1/2 hour

As you may have noticed, there’s a bit of sugar in the recipe and we all know that sugar is bad for us. Really, really bad.

I could have used a sugar substitute. If so, my first choices would have been to try a more naturally-derived sweetener, such as pure maple syrup, honey, molasses, or possibly dates, but I couldn’t find a good recipe. If you’ve got one, please share!

As for using other sugar substitutes, for future reference, I decided to ask my friends at the Maine Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for their opinions. Registered Dietitians Hillary Pride and Andrea Paul went the extra mile and created a chart packed with information. Here’s what they had to say.

There is an increasing number of low-calorie sweeteners, also called non-nutritive sweeteners, on the store shelves and in food products today. Many have fallen in and out of favor or been bumped to the side as newer, more “naturally-derived” sugar substitutes become available.

While many consumers may have a negative opinion of low-calorie sweeteners, it is important to note that every one of the sweeteners available today has been shown to be GRAS — Generally Recognized As Safe — by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It is also worth considering that the Daily Allowable Intake (ADI) for every non-nutritive sweetener is set at a level that is 100x less than the amount that research has shown to have some physiological effect. For aspartame, for example, the ADI is 50g/kg of body weight, which would equate to 22 cans of aspartame-sweetened diet soda per day for a 175-pound man. That’s probably a lot more soda than most people would — or could — consume!

If you have diabetes, low-calorie sweeteners can help you stay within your carbohydrate recommendation or allow you enjoy typically high carbohydrate foods like sweets, on occasion. So, if you are debating the use of sugar substitutes, try to keep your overall diet and health needs in mind.

And if you’re looking for more information on low-calorie sweeteners, seek out reputable sources of information (many online articles about sweeteners are not scientifically accurate.)

A few sites to consider:

If you’re confused by all the different sugar substitutes now available, here’s the table Hillary and Andrea created.

Sugar Substitutes

Sweetener Sweetness compared to table sugar Uses Calories Additional Info
Sucralose (Splenda) ~600 times sweeter General purpose; baking, beverages 0 Does not increase blood sugar.
Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) ~160-220 times sweeter Not heat stable, used to sweeten foods and beverages not requiring cooking or baking 4 calories per gram, however such small amounts are used that calories from aspartame are negligible. Contains Phenylalanine, not safe for those with PKU. Does not increase blood sugar.
Acesulfame – K (Equal) ~200 times sweeter Found in artificially sweetened foods and beverages in conjunction with other sweeteners 0 Does not increase blood sugar.
Monkfruit (also known as Lo Han Guo, Nectresse) ~ 150-300 times sweeter Found in commercially prepared packaged foods and beverages, used in place of table sugar 0 Does not increase blood sugar; safe for consumption by children, pregnant and nursing women.
Stevia (PureVia, Sweetleaf, Truvia and other brands) 200-300 times sweeter Baking, sweetening foods and beverages 0 Does not increase blood sugar
Swerve® Equal sweetness to table sugar Used for baking, cooking and non-heat sweetening. Can brown and caramelize like sugar. Less than 5 calories per serving (1 cup has 44 calories). Contains erythritol and oligosaccharides; “less likely” to cause GI distress than other sugar alcohols, like xylitol. Does not raise blood sugar.
Xylitol (XyloSweet, XyloPure, Nature’s Provision) 5% less sweet than sugar Sugar-Free gum, snacks; can be used in baking 40% fewer calories than sugar Consuming significant amounts may cause gastrointestinal discomfort

If you’ve got a fruit cobbler recipe that’s a healthier version of my late mother-in-law’s, please share it with us!

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.